Made in Ullapool

Posted by editor 19/09/2012 1 Comment 4113 views
Rhona and Mary Anne working with Kirsty and Ian.

Rhona and Mary Anne working with Kirsty and Ian.

By Jenny McBain

Ullapool in the Norwest Highlands of Scotland is a beautiful village bordered by traditional white washed houses dating back to the 18th century, nestled round a sea loch and overlooked by ancient, moody mountains.

Although it is over fifty miles from the city of Inverness and has a population of just 1400, some members of the dynamic community who live here have pooled resources to set up a social enterprise for young people with vulnerabilities.

Called simply, ‘Made In Ullapool’, this organisation is ostensibly about making and selling candles.   But it actually does much more than that; it provides a sense of meaning and purpose to the 15 people who go there to work in a supported environment.

To find out more, I enter a stately, handsome building near to the busy, commercial harbour and ascend a wide staircase.   Musky, floral and citrus scents provide a pleasant hint of what lies within.

The door opens into a warm, double height room with exposed stonework and extensive shelving.  Daylight floods in through curved windows illuminating an impressive array of colourful candles- many of which are scented. These range in price from just 75p for a floating candle to around £30 for a church one.

A work place is situated behind some low shelves, opposite the doorway.  Soon I am seated at a table which is covered by a spotted blue and white wax cloth and admiring the day’s output.

Leonard, Craig and Simon have been making a range of candles with the assistance of a professional care assistant, of a professional care assistant, Charlie and a volunteer called Lesley.

MIU sells candles at Ullapool Pier.

MIU sells candles at Ullapool Pier.

Leonard, who has learning difficulties, has travelled forty miles to come to work and needs the assistance of his care worker.  He says. “I like making candles because you use them to light up the house and burn when the lights go out.”

Lesley has a serene, nurturing manner as she helps to organise proceedings.  It is easy to see how people find working here to be a pleasant experience.  She and her husband helped found the group 2 years ago.  She says, “We have a daughter, Esther, who is 19 and has learning difficulties.  We started off by forming a youth group for her and her friends and found ourselves making candles in our kitchen at home.  That led to a sale in the village during which we took £500.”

Craig sweeps the floor and goes to hang up his apron, signalling that his shift is over. He is on the autistic spectrum and likes to know what the rules are. He is gently persuaded to indulge the reporter by staying a little longer.

A local lady arrives to purchase a candle as a gift and a second volunteer, Christine, operates the till. As a retiree she is enthusiastic about this work. She says, “I come here twice a week and I enjoy the sense that I am contributing something to such a worthwhile project.”

At the moment ‘Made in Ullapool’ is dependent on grant funding and on the input of volunteers. There are hopes that the quality merchandise will be able to meet a wider market through online sales and that proceeds can be used to employ the services of a professional workshop leader and an administrator.

But Lesley is keen to emphasise that people will always come before profit. She says, “Money is important but we don’t want to lose sight of why we are here in the first place. Resource is the most important thing; so people can come here and they are completely supported.”

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